Frosty Nights and Tropical Warmth

Dear Jimmy,

It has been a while since we last corresponded through letters, and your last letter on Cordoba had me longing for warmth again. However, yesterday was the winter solstice, which means that the days only become longer in tiny increments, giving me hope for the new year’s spring. I took a day off two weeks ago to plant all the bulbs in the ground, and the anticipation of their shoots breaking through the soil later always make me smile. It is miraculous to believe that the unremarkable bulbs can proffer promise of color, although one needs the foresight to plant them in autumn. Inside the greenhouses, the South African bulbs are waking up to spread their cheer as I see specialist plant blogs with exciting news of the latest Nerine or Lachenalia in flower. However, we need the darkness to appreciate the brightness of plants escaping dormancy because neither dark nor light are exclusive. Peresphone’s abduction by Hades into the Underworld and her mother Demeter’s joyous embrace of Peresphone upon her earthly return is an ancient acknowledgement of the highs and lows that define human lives, not to mention the natural world. No one wishes for a long winter, but on the other hand no one desires a perpetual spring because we cannot appreciate the changes essential for the cycle of life.

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Frosty days have been rare, and while frost is a destructive element in the garden, its crystalline beauty is undeniably photogenic. This year’s December has been mild, compared to last year’s forceful and frigid winter, giving me little reason to complain. Instead, the days have been like those of the British Isles, darkly damp that perennials left uncut look sodden, not structural. Only the woody plants, especially broad-leafed evergreens, look magnificent. I always envied those in milder climates, especially Mediterranean ones, for their choices of evergreens – in Australian gardens, I loved the bay laurels (Laurus nobilis), rosemary, and myrtles (Myrtus communis), all contributing their resinous aromas with the native eucalyptus, while in English gardens, camellias, cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus), rhododendrons, boxwood, and mahonias come to the fore after the thunderous colors of annuals and herbaceous perennials. To see the green foliage lustrous, healthy, and cold resilient is a continual reminder that not all plants recoil from winter.  You may feel more comfortable in the north European gardens, but the trip to Cordoba appeared to be an eye opener in the joy of fragrant and evergreen plants.

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I look back to our posts we had painstakingly written, edited, photographed, and shared with our readers in 2014. It is remarkable how that fateful day in February 2012 led to Plinth et al. Doing this blog has acquainted me with interesting individuals and gardens, as well as cementing our friendship and love for all things horticultural and artistic. The hard part is opening up because privacy is an endangered species now, and rare is the time when we are not parked in front of brightly lit screens. It will be the last letter of 2014 as we welcome 2015 in a matter of a week. I’ll be visiting family in Taiwan, and the subtropical weather will be welcomed. Stay tuned for the terraces of Taipei!

Happy Holidays!

~Eric

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